A Review of the film Black Beauty (from the novel by Anna Sewell)

“Black Beauty” is quite a good family film. As a mother, I enjoy watching films with my daughter where I’m not compelled to flee the room after 10 minutes. The scenery is breathtaking, the horses gorgeous, the majority of the acting sublime. This film falls short due to Cummings performance, and the lack of flow in the script.

 

Reviewed by Jen Johnston

This fanciful little reincarnation of Anna Sewell’s novel stays closer than is the Hollywood norm to her story. There’s just one problem…. It’s too short.

“Black Beauty” opens on the most idyllic setting imaginable, a beautiful field with a shining pond, and the most stunning horse you’ve ever seen lying by a gnarled oak tree. Beauty begins to tell his life story, going from his birth, and his first rider, to a new home, to losing everything he knows, to a renewal of hope.

His first master, Farmer Grey (Sean Bean of “Patriot Games” and “Fellowship of the Ring”) is a stunningly underused character. Farmer Grey is portrayed as a very endearing man. He’s with Beauty from the moment of his birth, training him, and finally selling him. His teaching of Beauty is quite loving and caring, and one becomes so wrapped up in his character that you can’t help but be disappointed when his segment ends.. It feels like there was more to his chapter and it got left on the cutting room floor.

As Beauty grows up, he is purchased by the lord of Berkwick Park, and is forced to go through the uncertainty of adjusting to a new situation. Once again, this segment is hampered only by the lack of time spent on the most disarming characters. John, (played by Jim Carter of Shakespear in Love, and Brassed Off ), and the boy Joe, (played by Andrew Knott of The Secret Garden ) They are both wonderfully written souls, who are cut short by the script.

John is an enchanting character. As the right hand man of the household his love for the family he serves encompasses everything around him. His manner may be brusque, but through his actions he lets the gentle character’s spirit shine through. The apprentice stable boy, Joe is a touching incarnation of a eager to please young man who may not always have the right ideas, but gives his all to every task he takes on. His keenness to help whenever and wherever he can will touch your heart. His final scene with Beauty will bring a tear to the eye.

The other chapter that is worth noting is the performance of David Thewlis (Gangster No. 1 and Dragonheart) as Jerry. His is such a lovely family portrait. They may be struggling to make ends meet, but you never see any form of tension touch them. Jerry is such a warm and open character, and he takes so much pride in his work, and in Beauty, that you can’t help but cheer him on. Again though, you become so involved with his character that it seems very abrupt when his episode ends.

The cast in this film is incredible save one: the man voicing Beauty. Alan Cumming (Spykids and Titus) just isn’t up to the level of the rest of the cast. The only way to have made this film flow would have been to have the only character who is constant be incredibly compelling. Unfortunately Cumming fails to add the necessary depth to Beauty to make the audience more attached to the horse than to any human characters he interacts with, making each segment seem too short.

“Black Beauty” is quite a good family film. As a mother, I enjoy watching films with my daughter where I’m not compelled to flee the room after 10 minutes. The scenery is breathtaking, the horses gorgeous, the majority of the acting sublime. This film falls short due to Cummings performance, and the lack of flow in the script. Had the segments been extended, and more attention been paid to Beauty’s personality, and approach to life it would have given the story more appeal to the adult audience.

About the Reviewer: Jen Johnston is one of those lucky few who make a living at making sarcastic comments about films she loves,
trying to remember them later, and writing them down. In her spare time she plays saxophone and piano, ballet dances, paints, does yoga,reads, runs, does endurance races with her horse, and (completely destroying her sweetness and light image) boxes competitively. Jen lives in Nova Scotia.

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